Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

February 28, 2015

Public schools serve the whole community

Filed under: Public Education,Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 5:55 pm

Mary Jarvis February 26, 2015 WausauDailyHerald.com

Know the facts about public schools vs. taxpayer-subsidized private schools.

A 21st-century public education system is the foundation of democracy and provides equal opportunity. The doors of public schools are wide open for all students and are essential to the well-being of our communities, state and country.

Do you know the difference between taxpayer subsidized private schools and our community public schools?
• Responsibilities and standards. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools do not need to hire highly qualified teachers and were not required to take state assessments until last year. Public schools are rated by the state every year, but taxpayer-subsidized private schools have a free ride from state report cards until 2017-18 or possibly later.
When taxpayer-subsidized private schools close, taxpayers can’t recoup our losses when displaced children return to public schools. When Life Skills Academy in Milwaukee closed in the middle of the night, $2.3 million tax dollars went down the drain.

• Funding. Wisconsin public schools were subjected to the largest cuts in the nation, totaling $1.6 billion, and there’s another $127 million cut on the table in the new budget proposal. As a result of continuing cuts in resources, there are fewer teachers and less one-on-one time for students. At the same time, taxpayer-subsidized private schools have skimmed $18.4 million dollars from public schools in 2013-2014 with a projection of $54.7 million going to them this year.
You may have noticed the significant increase in local referendums as state funding cuts to local schools, take their toll on students and communities especially rural areas. More communities than ever before are voting to raise their own local property taxes so children can still get a good education.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Nearly 80 percent of private school subsidy goes to students who never attended public schools in the first place — taxpayers are subsidizing private education at the expense of most of the children in our own neighborhoods.

• Special education. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools are only required to offer services to assist students with special needs that can be provided for with minor adjustments. Public schools employ licensed teachers, provide the full scope of special education and comply with federal law. As a result, subsidized private schools enroll far fewer children who require extra attention to succeed.

• Student achievement. Studies have found public schools to be equal or better performing than private institutions. This is true here in Wisconsin, where public school students are outperforming their peers in subsidized private schools. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools aren’t the answer to improving education. They ignore the real factors impacting student success — family income, involvement, and attendance.

• Public oversight. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools do not have democratically elected boards that represent the public — even though you, the taxpayer, are footing the bill. Private schools are not required to meet basic public standards, such as open meetings and records laws, or to publicly release test scores, dropout rates and other information.

• Responsibility to students. Many of the taxpayer-subsidized private schools springing up are private schools geared for profit and looking to advertise their way into getting tax dollars. Just look at the recent request by the subsidy lobby group to get the names, addresses and phone numbers of children in public schools. Subsidized private schools can spend your tax dollars any way they want, because there’s little oversight.
The bottom line: Public schools preserve our democracy and provide a fundamental public purpose for all. They are the heartbeat of thriving communities, the foundation of our quality of life. We need to support our neighborhood public schools so every child has a good public school to attend no matter where they live or what their family circumstances are.

Mary Jarvis of Wausau is a retired teacher and former president of the Wausau Education Association.

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February 25, 2015

Wauwatosa School Board asks lawmakers to increase public education funding

Filed under: Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 2:17 pm


$5 Tax savings will further dismantle public education in Wisconsin. Referencing Walker’s proposal to save the average taxpayer $5 over each of the next two years, school board member Michael Meier brought a bag of ten silver coins to the board meeting Feb. 23.

By Rory Linnane Feb. 25, 2015

Facing a loss of about $900,000 in state funding under Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget, Wauwatosa School Board members are asking their lawmakers to push for more money for public education.

In a resolution that passed the school board unanimously Monday, Feb. 23, members detailed the restrictions they are under in budgeting for the 2015-17 school years. Walker’s proposed budget would cut $150 in state aid per student in the next school year, while holding the revenue limit flat so that school boards could not raise taxes to make up the difference.

“Therefore, be it resolved, the Wauwatosa School Board calls upon Senator Leah Vukmir and Representatives Dale Kooyenga and Rob Hutton, to work with their legislative colleagues to support increased funding for public education in the current budget for the benefit of Wisconsin’s future and for the benefit of all public school students,” the resolution reads.

Kooyenga said Feb. 24 that he respected the school board’s position and would try to help.
“Just like last time in the budget the Joint Finance Committee increased the funding for public schools, I’ll be working hard to get to the same objective this time to see if we can fix the funding issue for Wauwatosa schools, and work on the resolution as they proposed it,” Kooyenga said. “I’m very supportive and we’ll be working to do that.”
Wauwatosa Superintendent Phil Ertl said although Wauwatosa is in a good financial position to weather “tough times,” other districts are not as fortunate.

“Can we operate with a $1 million cut for a year?” Ertl said. “Sure we can. But can Steven’s Point? Can Green Bay? Can all these other districts around the state that don’t have a fund balance, that have other, different needs than Wauwatosa? No, they can’t. When we fight, it’s not just for Wauwatosa. We’re fighting for public education in general.”
Ertl also said he believes the cuts are discouraging people from going into teaching.

“There’s always going to be a pool of candidates, but are some of our best students deciding they don’t want to go into public education? We’ve seen it,” Ertl said.

Referencing Walker’s proposal to save the average taxpayer $5 over each of the next two years, school board member Michael Meier brought a bag of ten silver coins to the board meeting Feb. 23.
“For ten pieces of silver, I can turn my back on 100 years of public education — my heritage, my community, the future of my grandchildren,” said Meier, who said four generations of his family have benefited from public schools. “I understood four years ago that we didn’t have the money anymore. But this time, it’s for $10.”
Board member Kristy Casey said she was optimistic that lawmakers would step in.

“It’s really early on,” Casey said. “I do believe these numbers will change, or at least I hope that they do. We can’t allow our schools to be victim to things like this, so it’s really important we advocate for what we believe is important in our community, which is our public schools.

Diane Ravitch Speaking in Milwaukee March 18

Filed under: Ravitch — millerlf @ 11:12 am

Diane Ravitch will be giving an address on Wednesday March 18 in Milwaukee.
Time: 6 PM
Place: MATC Cooley Auditorium, 700 W. State

To access the brochure to advertise this event, go to:

ravitch_flyer_2015

February 23, 2015

MPS Board Resolution on Walker Education Budget

Filed under: MPS,Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 7:11 pm

By Larry Miller
This Thursday I am proposing, to the MPS Board of Directors, the following resolution in response to Governor Scott Walker’s cuts in education. Public Testimony will be taken for this item. To see the proposed resolution go to:
MPS Board resolution

Following is a statement by MPS School Board President Michael Bonds.

Statement from Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Michael Bonds regarding Gov. Walker’s proposed 2015-17 biennial budget

MILWAUKEE (February 23, 2015) – Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Dr. Michael Bonds announced Monday that the Milwaukee Board of School Directors will consider a resolution by Director Larry Miller calling on Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature to restore adequate funding to public schools in Wisconsin.

Gov. Walker’s proposed biennial budget cuts more than $127 million in funds to school districts statewide and also fails to provide inflationary increases.

The resolution, in part, calls on the Legislature to “…reject any decrease in anticipated revenue in the first year of the biennium, while also providing inflationary revenue increases in both years.”

“School boards across the state are stepping forward to make sure the devastating impact of the Governor’s proposed budget is understood,” said Bonds. “I fully support Director Miller’s resolution and the call for action.”

Director Miller’s resolution will be introduced at the Milwaukee Board of School Directors’ Regular Monthly Board Meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 26. The meeting will be held in the Donald O’Connell Auditorium in the School Administration Building, 5225 W. Vliet Street, Milwaukee 53208.

This news is available online at http://mps.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/News/Statement-from-Milwaukee-Board-of-School-Directors-President-Michael-Bonds-regarding-Gov.-Walker.htm.

February 22, 2015

Racist History of “Right To Work”

The Ugly Racial History of “Right to Work” (Written in 2012 When Michigan Passed “Right to Work”)

Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit ▪ December 20, 2012

The victory for so-called “right-to-work” legislation in Michigan, the heartland of industrial unionism in America, has spurred talk of expanding efforts to pass similar laws to weaken unions in other states, such as Kentucky and even New Jersey. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer goes so far as to suggest that the spread of such anti-union laws is “inevitable,” given economic globalization—a conclusion that might surprise Germans, who have strong labor laws and collective bargaining agreements yet nevertheless manage to compete quite well.

Most of the discussion has centered on the political and economic effects of right-to-work laws—which allow workers to benefit from collective bargaining but withhold dues or agency fees to support the bargaining process. E.J. Dionne correctly notes that Republicans in Michigan were trying to weaken unions for political reasons. In Michigan in 2012, Dionne writes, “Obama won union households 66 percent to 33 percent, the rest of the electorate by 50 percent to 49 percent.” And the Economic Policy Institute finds that workers—whether or not they are in unions—earn about $1,500 less per year on average in right-to-work states, as the policy essentially transfers wealth from workers to employers and stockholders.

But as other states consider such laws, it is important also to remember the ugly racial history of right-to-work legislation. A key driver of the right-to-work movement beginning in the 1930s was Texas businessman and white supremacist Vance Muse, who hated unions in part because they promoted the brotherhood of workers across racial lines. As author Mark Ames notes, Muse bluntly outlined the thinking behind “right to work,” declaring, “From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

Indeed, unions have a powerful interest in reducing racial discrimination and animus because racial hostility inhibits worker solidarity and union organizing. Southern segregationists knew this, which is why they eagerly signed on to right-to-work efforts to weaken unions in the middle part of the twentieth century.

In the 1930s and 1940s, organized labor made great strides in the northern and midwestern parts of the United States, but racial animus in the South proved a key impediment to union organizing. It was very threatening to southern segregationists, therefore, when the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) launched “Operation Dixie” in the 1940s to organize the South, because the CIO’s agenda included efforts to reduce discrimination. Southern conservatives feared that if unions united working-class whites and blacks, they could upend the politics of the South, where Jim Crow laws helped keep white and black workers on opposite sides of the political fence. They argued that unions could bring “black domination in the South.” For Martin Luther King, Jr., the unity of interests of labor and civil rights groups was underlined by segregationist opposition to both. In 1961, he told the AFL-CIO that “the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”

As historian Tami Friedman notes, the CIO, with a $1 million war chest and 250 organizers, set out in 1946 to organize at least 1 million workers by the end of the year. The AFL also made a pledge to organize 1 million southern workers. CIO president Philip Murray promised both “political and economic emancipation” for southern workers, and vowed to defeat two major segregationists in Mississippi. W.E.B. Du Bois called the CIO the best hope for equal rights in the postwar era.

With President Truman also beginning to move forward on civil rights, southern segregationists ramped up their anti-union efforts. As the CIO began Operation Dixie, southern Democrats joined northern Republicans in voting for the 1947 Taft-Hartley legislation to cripple union organizing, in part by authorizing states to adopt right-to-work statutes. Friedman writes, “While the measure is often seen as the work of a Republican-dominated Congress, southern Democrats were instrumental in its passage; in both houses, over 80 percent of southern Democrats backed the bill. After President Truman vetoed the legislation, 90 percent of southern Democrats in the House of Representatives and over 77 percent of those in the Senate helped override his action.”

Southern segregationists followed up their support for Taft-Hartley with an array of state-based right-to-work laws, a strategy King strongly opposed. He declared, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”
________________________________________

To this day, the states most resistant to unions are those in the former Confederacy and the Jim Crow South. Of the seventeen states that had legally required segregation prior to Brown v. Board of Education, twelve are today right-to-work states. All five states that ban collective bargaining with public employees—Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—are from the Jim Crow South. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the eleven states with the lowest rates of unionization are North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida. All of these states were formerly segregated.
Given this history, one can fully appreciate the bitter irony of Michigan’s adoption of right-to-work legislation. While Michigan’s own racial history is hardly unblemished, the United Auto Workers, led by Walter Reuther, were champions of racial equality within the labor movement. Whereas the AFL-CIO refused to endorse the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, for example, the UAW and Reuther were central players in it.

Sixty-five years later, Operation Dixie has been turned on its head. Not only did labor fail to organize the South; we have now witnessed what was once unthinkable: the passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan, on the heels of the crippling of public employee unionism in Wisconsin.

The far more hopeful story since the 1940s, of course, is the tremendous racial progress made in the United States, and particularly in the American South. Today, Vance Muse’s rhetoric about race is rejected by the vast majority of Americans and serves as a source of enormous embarrassment for the anti-labor, right-to-work movement.

As labor thinks through how to get out of the deep mess it finds itself in, it can draw inspiration from America’s great civil rights movement. In Mississippi, the UAW is framing labor organizing at a Nissan Motors plant as part of a twenty-first-century civil rights movement, and Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, has endorsed the idea of incorporating worker rights to organize into an amended Civil Rights Act. If anything good is to come out of the terrible loss in Michigan, it will be that labor has discovered that the false rhetoric of “right to work” can be directly rebutted with the powerful idea that worker rights are civil rights.
________________________________________
Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and Moshe Z. Marvit is a civil rights and labor attorney. They are coauthors of Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice (2012).

When Charter Schools Are Nonprofit in Name Only

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 8:17 am

Some charters pass along nearly all their money to for-profit companies hired to manage the schools. It’s an arrangement that’s raising eyebrows.

by Marian Wang ProPublica, Dec. 9, 2014

A couple of years ago, auditors looked at the books of a charter school in Buffalo, New York, and were taken aback by what they found. Like all charter schools, Buffalo United Charter School is funded with taxpayer dollars. The school is also a nonprofit. But as the New York State auditors wrote, Buffalo United was sending ” virtually all of the School’s revenues” directly to a for-profit company hired to handle its day-to-day operations.

Charter schools often hire companies to handle their accounting and management functions. Sometimes the companies even take the lead in hiring teachers, finding a school building, and handling school finances.

In the case of Buffalo United, the auditors found that the school board had little idea about exactly how the company – a large management firm called National Heritage Academies – was spending the school’s money. The school’s board still had to approve overall budgets, but it appeared to accept the company’s numbers with few questions. The signoff was “essentially meaningless,” the auditors wrote.

In the charter-school sector, this arrangement is known as a “sweeps” contract because nearly all of a school’s public dollars – anywhere from 95 to 100 percent – is “swept” into a charter-management company.

The contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers. When the agreement is with a for-profit firm like National Heritage Academies, it’s also a chance for such firms to turn taxpayer money into tidy profits.

“It’s really just a pass-through for for-profit entities,” said Eric Hall, an attorney in Colorado Springs who specializes in work with charter schools and has come across many sweeps contracts. “In what sense is that a nonprofit endeavor? It’s not.”

Neither National Heritage Academies nor the Buffalo United board responded to requests for comment. (Update: NHA spokeswoman Jennifer Hoff said in an emailed statement, “Our approach relieves our partner boards of all financial, operational, and academic risks – a significant burden that ultimately defeats many charter schools. Freed from burdens like fundraising, our partner boards can focus on governance and oversight … NHA and its partner schools comply fully with state and federal laws, authorizer oversight requirements, and education department regulations – including everything related to transparency.”)

While relationships between charter schools and management companies have started to come under scrutiny, sweeps contracts have received little attention. Schools have agreed to such setups with both nonprofit and for-profit management companies, but it’s not clear how often. Nobody appears to be keeping track.
What is clear is that it can be hard for regulators and even schools themselves to follow the money when nearly all of it goes into the accounts of a private company.

“We’re not confident that sweeps contracts allow [charters schools and regulators] to fully fulfill their public functions,” said Alex Medler, who leads policy and advocacy work at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a trade group for charter regulators. The organization discourages the arrangements. “We think this is an issue that needs attention.”

Officials have gotten glimpses of questionable spending by some firms using “sweeps” contracts.
Take the case of Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School, another National Heritage Academies school. In 2012, state auditors tried to track the $10 million in public funding given to the school, only to conclude they were ” unable to determine … the extent to which the $10 million of annual public funding provided to the school was actually used to benefit its students.” From what auditors could tell, the school was paying above-market rent for its building, which in turn is owned by a subsidiary of National Heritage Academies. They also had concerns about equipment charges.
The auditors couldn’t ultimately tell whether the charges were reasonable because National Heritage Academies refused to share the relevant financial details. The firm also refused to provide detailed documentation for $1.6 million in costs recorded as corporate services, claiming the information was proprietary, according to the audit. The board president of Brooklyn Excelsior did not respond to our request for comment.

While the auditors in New York were disturbed by what they found, they could do little more than issue reports with advisory recommendations. “We can’t audit the management company,” said Brian Butry, a spokesman for New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

In Michigan, where NHA is the largest charter-school operator, state education regulators have voiced similar frustrations about the degree to which these private firms are shielded from having to answer to the public about how money is spent.

“I can’t FOIA National Heritage Academies,” said Casandra Ulbrich, Vice President of the Michigan State Board of Education, referring to the right to request public documents from public agencies. “I don’t know who they’re subcontracting with, I don’t know if they’re bid out. I don’t know if there are any conflicts of interest. This is information we as taxpayers don’t have a right to.”

Last year, Ulbrich and the State Board of Education had called for more transparency to be brought to the financial dealings of charter-management firms. They specifically asked the legislature to outlaw sweeps contracts. “Unfortunately,” Ulbrich said, “it fell on deaf ears.”

The Internal Revenue Service has questioned some cases of sweeps contracts, but has not taken a consistent stand on whether the contracts are appropriate.

It’s not just charter regulators and auditors that have reason to be wary of such setups. Some charter-school boards that signed sweeps contracts have found themselves shut out of the operations of their own schools.
In Ohio, ten charter-school boards sued their management firm, White Hat Management, in 2010 after they couldn’t get answers to basic questions about why their schools’ performance lagged and how the school’s money was spent.
Even so, it was a challenge for the schools to take back control. After handing over the bulk of their money to White Hat for years, the schools had little money of their own, said Karen Hockstad, an attorney who’s been representing the school boards in continuing litigation.

“Their hands are tied. They don’t have the money to build brand new infrastructure and get new desks and books and anything else,” said Hockstad. White Hat Management did not return a request for comment.
Some charter-school regulators – recognizing their limited authority over charter-management companies – are beginning to push back, requiring schools to get more information from management firms. Still, that hasn’t stopped some management companies from putting up a fight.

Regulators in the District of Columbia are seeking more legal authority over management firms after two recent scandals. The DC Public Charter School Board has asked the city council to pass legislation that would allow access to the books of management companies under certain conditions. So far, that effort has gone nowhere.
Related coverage: Read about how a chain of charter schools is channeling millions of public education dollars to for-profit companies controlled by the schools’ founder.

If you have information about charter schools and their profits or oversight — or any other tips — email us at charters@propublica.org.

Example of Charter School Regulation in Minnesota

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 8:12 am

When a Wildlife Rehab Center Regulates Charter Schools: Inside the Wild World of Charter Regulation
Charter school “authorizers” are charged with making sure schools can be trusted with kids and with public money. Problem is, many lack the tools to do the job.

by Marian Wang ProPublica, Feb. 20, 2015
Nestled in the woods of central Minnesota, near a large lake, is a nature sanctuary called the Audubon Center of the North Woods. The nonprofit rehabilitates birds. It hosts retreats and conferences. It’s home to a North American porcupine named Spike as well as several birds of prey, frogs, and snakes used to educate the center’s visitors.
It’s also Minnesota’s largest regulator of charter schools, overseeing 32 of them.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded, privately run schools freed from many of the rules that apply to traditional public schools. What’s less widely understood is that there are few hard-and-fast rules for how the regulators charged with overseeing charter schools are supposed to do the job. Many are making it up as they go along.
Known as “authorizers,” charter regulators have the power to decide which charter schools should be allowed to open and which are performing so badly they ought to close. They’re supposed to vet charter schools, making sure the schools are giving kids a good education and spending public money responsibly.

But many of these gatekeepers are woefully inexperienced, under-resourced, confused about their mission or even compromised by conflicts of interest. And while some charter schools are overseen by state education agencies or school districts, others are regulated by entities for which overseeing charters is a side job, such as private colleges and nonprofits like the Audubon wildlife rehabilitation center.

One result of the regulatory mishmash: Bad schools have been allowed to stay open and evade accountability.
“Almost everything you see come up as charter school problems, if you scratch past the surface, the real problem is bad authorizing,” said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

In 2010, an investigation by the Philadelphia Controller’s Office found lavish executive salaries, conflicts of interest and other problems at more than a dozen charter schools, and it faulted the authorizer – the School District of Philadelphia’s charter school office – for “complete and total failure” to monitor schools. In 2013, more than a dozen Ohio charter schools that had gained approval from various authorizers received state funding and then either collapsed in short order or never opened at all.

“Considerable state funds were lost and many lives impacted because of these failures,” the Ohio Department of Education wrote in a scathing letter last year to Ohio’s charter-school regulators. The agency wrote that some authorizers “lacked not only the appropriate processes, but more importantly, the commitment of mission, expertise and resources needed to be effective.”

Aside from such dramatic implosions, it’s hard to tell how many authorizers are doing at this important public function. They’re generally not required to say much about the details of their decision-making.
Take Minnesota’s Audubon Center. As a group, the schools overseen by the center fall below the state average on test scores. The group has several persistently low performers, acknowledged David Greenberg, Audubon’s Director of Charter School Authorizing, and a few years back, made the tough call to close one. But test scores offer a limited window into how a regulator is performing. The center works with several schools serving high-need students in Minneapolis, and high-need students tend to have lower test scores. A full picture requires a more holistic evaluation – one that the Minnesota Department of Education is just starting this year.

In the early years of the charter movement, charter supporters focused on creating more authorizers, in order to spur the creation of more schools. That’s still true in some states, where charters are taking off. But as the movement has matured, there’s been a realization that “having too many authorizers undercuts quality,” in the words of the National Association for Charter School Authorizers, a trade group for charter regulators. NACSA has worked to educate states and individual authorizers on what good oversight looks like, while promoting measures such as “default closure” to help bypass authorizers that may be reluctant to close chronically underperforming schools.
While there are promising signs, NACSA acknowledges there’s still a long way to go. “It feels like whack-a-mole, but in the long term, you’re getting closer,” said Alex Medler, the group’s vice president of policy and advocacy. Even if states have some strong authorizers, weak ones can undermine the whole system, as underperforming schools can find refuge with them.
“It’s not how many are good, it’s are there any bad ones left?” Medler said. “If you’re running a bad school, you look for the presence of bad authorizers. You ignore the good authorizer.”
Consider Indiana, a state that has sought to strengthen charter-school accountability in recent years. On one hand, the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office is widely regarded as a strong charter-school regulator. The schools it oversees have as a group performed better on state tests than Indianapolis Public Schools, and the office has made some tough calls, revoking charters when it sees fit and flagging suspected cheating at its schools.
On the other hand, there’s Trine University, a small private college in rural Northeast Indiana and a charter-school regulator that has taken on schools that left other authorizers, in some cases after those regulators had sought to close them.
(more…)

February 19, 2015

Superintendents Are Speaking Out: Stop Dismantling Public Education

Filed under: Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 2:09 pm

The following are letters from Wisconsin superintendents informing their parents and communities about the short- and long- term setbacks facing the over 400 state school districts. Please join them in speaking out against a travesty in the making.

Wauwatosa
Each year we make many difficult choices about how to spend our available dollars, similar to any business, but the challenges are becoming increasingly difficult. With significant tax dollars being funneled to private voucher schools, which are not accountable in the same manner as the Wauwatosa School District schools, there is a fundamental shift in the foundation of public schools that will negatively impact our schools and the students they serve permanently.

Full letter:
http://wsaa.org/saainfo/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Tosa-Family-Letter-0215.pdf

Wausau
Within the televised context of the Governor’s budget address, Governor Walker stated the new budget would provide public schools with roughly the same amount of funding as during the previous year; thus, suggesting that the per pupil revenue limit increase most recently set at $75.00 would be reduced to zero. This reduction in projected revenue, along with other baseline assumptions, would result in a necessary Wausau School District 2015-2016 budget reduction of $1,250,000. However, contained within the actual 900+ page executive budget report, verbiage indicates that the same amount of funding will not be forthcoming. In fact the budget report clarifies that in addition to the per pupil revenue limit remaining at $0, the proposal also calls for a categorical aid reduction from $150.00 per pupil to $0 thereby increasing necessary budget reductions to a total of $2,500,000.

Full letter:
http://wsaa.org/saainfo/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Wausau-Stakeholders-02.16.15.pdf

Dane County Superintendents
Too often taxpayers, parents, politicians, and educators talk about what they dislike or what they are against. As leaders of school districts in and around Dane County, we are compelled to speak out about what we need to maintain and improve our already excellent schools. We are united in the mission of working for excellence for all of our children.

It is also important for the public, the legislature, and Governor Walker to advocate for both policies and budgets that make sense, while also resonating with parents, grandparents, the business community, and the voters of Wisconsin. It is in this spirit that we submit this letter. It is in this spirit that we call upon our state representatives to act to support our schools.

Full letter:
http://wsaa.org/saainfo/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Dane-Cty-Supts.pdf

Whitefish Bay
The governor’s budget bill was released last week. If the education-related items within the proposal prevail, it will be a crushing blow to public education in several ways. I will touch upon just two of those items below.

Full letter:
http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/1007619/7c21a11c26/TEST/TEST/

River Falls Budget Resolution
http://wsaa.org/saainfo/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/River-Falls-GOVERNORS-BUDGET-RESOLUTION-2-16-15.pdf

February 18, 2015

Wausau Superintendent Sends Letter to Parents Informing Them of the Consequences of Walker’s Proposed Budget

Filed under: Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 3:19 pm

Dr. Kathleen Williams, Superintendent of the Wausau School District, sent a letter to the households of their students informing them that, “There is no question that should the budget proposal remain unchanged, the financial impact on the Wausau School District will be significant and have ramifications for both short- and long-term planning.”
T o read the letter go to:
http://wsaa.org/saainfo/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Wausau-Stakeholders-02.16.15.pdf

Some Wisconsin School Districts Prepared to Release Personal Student Info to Voucher Industry

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:21 am

Oshkosh schools set deadline to OK student info release
Nathaniel Shuda, Oshkosh Northwestern Media February 17, 2015
Story Highlights
• School Choice Wisconsin is requesting students’ personal information known as directory data.
• Oshkosh school board policy defines the data as name, grade level and school attended.
• Addresses and telephone numbers of elementary students also are included in the definition.
• Parents have until the end of Monday to decide whether to allow the district to release the data.

Oshkosh Area School District parents have until Monday to decide whether they want their children’s personal information released to a statewide school voucher group.

District leaders notified parents Monday about an open records request from School Choice Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that advocates for school choice programs. Oshkosh is one of about 30 districts statewide to receive such a request.

The group is seeking a portion of the district’s school “directory data” for each student, including name, address, telephone number, grade level and the school each student most recently attended.

The data is collected and used for a variety of purposes, but the scope of the group’s request is uncommon, Superintendent Stan Mack II said.

“It’s so unusual; we don’t get blanket requests like this,” Mack said.

School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender said the group likely would pass the information it requested to private and parochial schools that are part of the state’s voucher program.

“We want parents to be aware of all the options they have,” said Bender, noting some private schools have had difficulty receiving information from school districts. “Parents have a right to know what options they have for their kids. Parents can’t be kept in the dark.”

School board policy outlines different definitions of the term “directory data,” depending on grade level, with name, grade level and school attended included in the definition for all students, as well as address and phone number of elementary school students only, Mack said. Parents will have until the end of the day Monday to confirm or change the decision they made at the beginning of the school year on whether to allow the district to share their children’s information.

“If we don’t hear back from them, we will release their information,” Mack said.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said he has not heard of anyone making such a request before.

“Obviously, this strikes a nerve because the group that’s making the request is controversial,” Lueders said.

State statutes governing student records — not the state’s open records law — allow districts to collect and disclose directory data with the permission of a parent or guardian. Many districts use the statutes to allow for the release of information commonly included on sports team rosters, such as the height and weight of student athletes, their involvement in sports or other activities and any degrees or awards the student received, Lueders said.

“When you put together a wrestling program, you want to say a particular wrestler is 145 pounds; you want to be able to say for your basketball team that your star center is 6 foot 3 (inches),” he said. “These are all things that the law allows the school district to obtain (and release with parental consent).”

He cautioned against restricting some of the more basic data, such as name and school, saying it would be difficult to justify keeping that information confidential in keeping with the spirit of the law.
Nathaniel Shuda: (920) 426-6632 or nshuda@thenorthwestern.com; on Twitter @onwnshuda. Patti Zarling of Press-Gazette Media in Green Bay contributed to this report.

Background Story

Voucher group requests student info from public schools

Patti Zarling, Press-Gazette Media February 13, 2015
A group that supports private school vouchers is asking for student information from a number of Wisconsin school districts — including Green Bay, De Pere and West De Pere — apparently for recruitment purposes.

School Choice Wisconsin, which is lobbying for expansion of Wisconsin’s voucher program, has asked about 30 public school districts for names, addresses and other student information through the state’s Open Records law.

The request jolted district officials and Democratic lawmakers who are opposed to vouchers. They said they’re worried about infringement on students’ privacy.

“As a parent and lawmaker, I’m outraged by this request for personal student information,” said Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay.

Genrich and Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, announced Friday they’re consulting with staff attorneys to draft a bill that would block requests such as this one. They said they hope for bipartisan support for a measure to keep student information “out of the hands of those who might seek to harm children.”

School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender said the group likely would pass the information it requested to private and parochial schools that are part of the state’s voucher program. Efforts are no different than billboards, mailings and other marketing efforts, he said.

“We have never had a request from a third party asking for information about every single student. Our real concern is student privacy.”

Gov. Scott Walker has called to remove a cap on the number of students who can be part of the voucher program. The proposal in his 2015-17 budget would limit new recruits to students from public schools.

“We want parents to be aware of all the options they have,” said Bender, noting some private schools have had difficulty receiving information from school districts. “Parents have a right to know what options they have for their kids. Parents can’t be kept in the dark.”

Green Bay school officials notified families via email of the School Choice request, saying such a broad request is unprecedented.

“This is the first time we have ever had a request like this,” District Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld told Press-Gazette Media. “We have never had a request from a third party asking for information about every single student. Our real concern is student privacy.”

She had no comment about the fact the request came from a pro-voucher group.

Families are asked at the start of the school year whether they would like their child’s name to be included in student directories. The information then can be used, for example, in school yearbooks or news articles. A separate federal law regulates the release of student information for military or college purposes, officials said.

“Clearly, the Green Bay administration does not want parents to know about the many options available to them.”

The Green Bay district asked for $380 to cover its expenses in gathering the info, and had not heard back from School Choice as of Friday afternoon.

“While the district must comply with the request required by law, I find it difficult to believe that this was the intended purpose of the law,” Langenfeld said in her letter to parents. “Please know that we work hard every day to protect your student’s records and family’s personal information.”

Bender took a different view.

“Clearly, the Green Bay administration does not want parents to know about the many options available to them.” he said. “We suggest they focus on positive engagement with their parents instead of creating propaganda designed to misinform.”

In an email message to the Press-Gazette, Bender thanked Langenfeld, saying her mass email led a number of parents to call School Choice for information about vouchers.

The statewide voucher program allows families to use tax dollars to help pay for tuition for private or parochial schools.

The state’s previous budget expanded the program statewide, with 500 students added in 2013-14 and another 500 this school year. Green Bay area private schools have 91 students using vouchers.

— pzarling@pressgazettemedia.com or follow her on Twitter @PGPattiZarling
— Press-Gazette Media reporter Adam Rodewald contributed to this story.

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